By Kate Aksyonov, Section Editor
The final teams are animatedly announced over the loudspeaker as Elkhorn South’s own dance team prepares to take the stage with their hip hop routine. While their hearts and minds are trying to hang onto every syllable echoing in from the hallway, they know they need to focus on their upcoming performance.
School after school is called out, and they are nearing the end of the list. The last call, “Elkhorn South,” is covered up by the chorus of screams and cries as the girls realize that, as the first team from Elkhorn to reach Nationals, they just made history.
For the first time in the last seven years of Elkhorn South’s history, the storm dance team received the opportunity to compete at Nationals, February first through third in Orlando, Florida. The girls went further than anyone expected. They made it to finals their first year dancing against the highest level of competition in the country, placing 16th out of 76 teams in small varsity jazz, and 8th out of 48 teams in small varsity hip-hop.
“We’ve been preparing to go to nationals since the beginning of the school year,” sophomore Faith Wanninger said. “We’ve had extra practices a lot recently, so I think [all we have to do know is] getting our heads in the game. This is the real deal; it’s more getting mentally on track, than actually physically.”
This is Wanninger’s second year on the dance team, and the dynamic of Elkhorn South Dance team (ESDT) changed this season with the addition of a separate competitive team alongside a larger performance team. In total, there are 18 members of the dance team, with two alternates for the 12 competitive dancers and an additional four on the performance team.
“It has been awesome expanding our program this year,” Coach Jarabe said. “It is good to open up performance opportunities to more of the student body than just to 12 dancers. We have really enjoyed learning how to best manage having a 2 in 1 program this year.”
While all dancers on the team perform at games and support the school, only the dancers on the competitive team will go to Nationals.
“It’s really exciting because we’ve never had our own little support group before besides parents,” Senior captain Lauryn Sommerer said.
The creation of a competitive team and a performance team also allows for more preparation for nationals and other competitions. A difference that sets this year apart, according to Sommerer, is the level of commitment.
“It’s dedication,” Sommerer said. “In the past years there are people that were dedicated and working hard, but the team as a whole is really committed [this year] so it’s pretty cool.”
As well as increased dedication, the girls on ESDT have been pushed harder than they ever have to prepare for a challenge greater than they have ever faced.
“[Our coaches] pushed us pretty hard this year,” Sommerer said. “Since we had a higher goal this year, they had to.”
The dance team has been thought of as primarily a community sport by administration, which is the main reason limits exist on the eligible competitions for the teams. However, the dancers’ competitive experiences through their dance studios instill a need in them to “go past [their] boundaries” via travelling out of state to compete at large-scale competitions like Nationals.
“If you watch a nationals team you are blown away,” Wanninger said. “A lot of the time those teams are recognized by their school as a sport and not just a club and activity. They are taken seriously, and sometimes dance team here doesn’t always get taken that seriously. I think that’s one thing we were trying to change this year.”
To prepare for the intensity of nationals, the girls have had practice every morning the week leading up to nationals, as well as after school practices Tuesday and Thursday and three hour practices on Sunday. The competition team has been practicing together for at least six hours every week, not including the individual practice and videos girl’s must take to show their practice.
“We want to have gym space; we don’t want to be put underneath sports all the time,” Wanninger said. “But you know the school is always going to favor sports. Recently, we’ve been trying to get practices in the gym, but basketball has been in there. I get it: it’s their season, but it’s also our season and we are going to compete at Nationals, in Florida, against the whole country in two weeks; they are going to play a local team within the next week. I don’t think it levels up all the time and I don’t think the school district and just administration realize that.”
All of the dance competitions are run through a larger program, the Universal Dance Association (UDA). The girls competed in hip hop and jazz, and they have the maximum number of dancers in the small division. Another obstacle the team faced is that most teams going to nationals have competed at regionals, however Elkhorn South’s dance team could only travel to one out of state competition, that being nationals. In addition to that, injuries that have prevented attending a previous competition made nationals the girl’s first competition with their routine.
However, the girls know as a team where their weaknesses are, and they have been preparing and
working on those skills in order to give the best shot they have at nationals.
“[We need to work on] mostly just our performance quality,” Sommerer said. “We have most of the tricks and turns, but it’s emoting to the audience”
As a team, the dancers have always had a phrase that inspires them to reach the highest they can and encourages them throughout the season: it’s the climb.
“We are saying that every performance should be a new peak and we should be getting better as we go,” Sommerer said.
No matter the results, members on the dance team remember the people that got them to nationals in the first place. People who have provided both emotional support and physical, since nationals in Florida have a big monetary burden. The dancers have had several fundraisers like breakfasts, a spaghetti night, and a junior dance clinic to contribute to the expenses, however a lot of it still falls to the individual dancers to provide.
“A lot of [money] does come from our parents and we’re really fortunate to have this opportunity to go here,” Wanninger said. “I’m really thankful that my parents allow me to even dance because it’s quite expensive.”
However, the experience of competing at Nationals, dancing alongside friends, and meeting the other teams can’t have a price placed on it.
“[Nationals] really opened my eyes because dance team is such a unique sport and it can be interpreted so many different ways,” Wanninger said. “It made me realize that everyone is so different and unique in their own way. You never are going to be like another team. You are always are going to be your own team, and individuality as a team is what makes dance team itself so unique and fun.”
The dancers on ESDT have trained relentlessly to attain victory at Nationals, and their coaches recognize the winning spirit within the girls.
“I can’t even begin to express the pride I have for these talented ladies,” Jarabe said. “They have worked so hard thus far, and they will continue in this tradition as the rest of our season unfolds. They have excellent work ethic and are all great students and people.”
With the amount of hard work and effort put in from all the girls, parents, and coaches into preparation for nationals, it’s the journey and the effort that is put in that leads to the trophies.
“We have always said it’s the climb,” Wanninger said. “We have to push ourselves farther than we think we can go, and no matter what, we can only get better and we can’t go down. So we just have to go with the climb from Nationals, and we are going to State, and we have to continue that climb. We can’t peak at any time it just keeps going up.”